Today we visited the Zugspitze — the highest point in Germany and also, at its peak, a border crossing into Austria (but not the highest point in Austria — not by more than half a mile). It was wild, it was beautiful, it was kind of scary.
We rode in a big cable car up to the top (over 9700 ft above sea level and about 6500 ft above the valley floor). We rode over towering pine trees, sheer cliff faces and a fair bit of snow. I’ve ridden in very similar cable cars several times before, and it’s never bothered me. I know that they’re very safe, they’ve made these trips thousands of times without incident, and that, regardless of what were to happen, it’s completely out of my hands. Typically, all of that knowledge, along with the fact that I usually truly enjoy the ride, means that I have a pleasant and uneventful trip.
Today, though, about 3/4 of the way up the mountain, I started to get anxious. It started to feel like everywhere I looked was down and that we were never going to get to the top. I was overcome with an almost irrepressible urge to drastically lower my center of gravity (like by sitting on the floor) and I clung to the handrail harder than was necessary. (How would the handrail help me anyway? I’m pretty sure that in the case of a massive structural failure, the handrail would suffer the same fate as the rest of us.) I didn’t completely panic, but I was more unsettled than I have ever been at this kind of altitude. During the ascent, we came up over the edge of the mountain and saw the jagged ridges of the Alps layered, one after the other, like rows of shark teeth, to the horizon. That was spectacular and awesome enough to shock me into appreciating my surroundings for the last bit of the climb. The kids did great the entire ride and seemed unfazed by the height and by my worry.
Getting to the top only helped a little, though. Having solid ground beneath my feet was nice, but everywhere we went and everywhere we looked, I was reminded by how high up we were. We went out onto the sun terrace where we looked down on a massive glacier where tiny-looking people were skiing. The winds were strong, but not awful, and we were surrounded by a sturdy fence. I couldn’t bring myself to let go of B’s hand, even for a second, even though we were safe, to take a picture. I wasn’t miserable, or freaking out, but I did NOT want my kids to be out there without being anchored to one of us.
The kids were hungry, so we ate some lunch (nothing scary there, and a really nice view). Afterwards, I wanted to explore some more, to see what we had come to see, and to walk across the border. So, we went up onto another terrace to see some more. The views were stunning — white, snowy mountain and glacier just below us, brown and green peaks fading to golden valleys spotted with vividly blue lakes. I guess my time sitting and having lunch had calmed me down, because I was truly able to enjoy it. The whipping and howling wind was a bit intimidating, though.
Then we walked over to the German side and I was right back to almost-panic. The terrace on that side was icy in places, and the fence was much more minimalistic. I tried, but I could not convince myself to walk towards the fence even to read the maps and signs describing the area. I was done.
So, we went down. The kids hadn’t been freaked out at all, but they were tired. I was worried about having a hard time with the descent, but I didn’t. The trip down was fantastic — it felt like flying, and I was able to enjoy the views and marvel at the ride (it was pretty darn cool). I was actually disappointed when it was over.
It was a beautiful mountain with amazing views. But, I liked the ride down better than my time at the top. Being at the base was like being in a different world — it was warm with a little breeze. We played at a playground with the boys and had some ice cream together. Today, at least, I liked the view from the bottom better than the view from the top.